what3words addresses South African township

During the first two days of the project what3words has already helped hundreds of township residents find their address and register for medical services


London, March 2nd, 20170:01 GMT – what3words, the multi-award winning location reference system, has collaborated with South African non-governmental organisation (NGO) Gateway Health Institute, to get some 54,000 residents of an impoverished informal settlement, on the map. Following partnerships with national postal services in Djibouti and Côte d'Ivoire, as well as pan-African ecommerce company Afrimarket, what3words is making inroads to help Africa build an addressing infrastructure that meets the needs of all its people.

With a mobile address printing machine and a team of local field workers, what3words and Gateway Health Institute addressed hundreds of homes in KwaNdengezi, a township on the outskirts of Durban, over the first two days. The project gives residents access to medical services such as ambulances and medicine, and has provided them with a medical record for the first time.

Almost half (45%) of the 18.7 million adults in South Africa live in townships or informal settlements. Worldwide this figure reaches one billion, with the total expected to triple by 2050[1]. Homes in these informal settlements have no formal addresses, leaving those who live there invisible to the system. Residents can’t order goods or receive deliveries, and they struggle to access basic utilities, amenities and medical care. In KwaNdengezi Ambulances can take almost a full day to reach the person in need. Medical experts often must track down community leaders to ask for directions, or rely on long and often inaccurate descriptive addresses. Pregnant women who experience difficulties during labour are unable to get help and many die in childbirth.

Gateway Health Institute provides healthcare and community services in disadvantaged areas across South Africa. They run programs to deliver medicine, supply emergency transport for women in labour, and identify hot spots for human rights abuses. However, many of these programs struggle due to the lack of reliable addressing.

what3words is a location reference system based on a global grid of 57 trillion 3mx3m squares. Each square has been pre-assigned a fixed and unique 3-word address. Easier to communicate than GPS, more accurate than street addressing and more immediate than any other geo-coding or addressing project, it is a universal and human-friendly system. The entire map can easily be downloaded onto a smartphone thanks to its 10MB file. It works offline without a data connection, ensuring it can be used everywhere.

Using the sign printing machine, designed in a traditional South African style, residents of KwaNdengezi could find their addresses amid the sprawling 14km square informal settlement. With help of 11 local field workers, residents used tablets and satellite imagery to identify the location of their homes and immediately print their 3 word addresses on plastic signs to hang on their doors. Residents can now simply refer to these addresses – which never change – when they need to communicate their locations.

Using these addresses residents can now be registered in a database, creating a medical and community record for these citizens for the first time. The expansion of the local team is also helping to tackle the high levels of youth unemployment in the area.

“For those living in informal settlements and rural areas, ‘location’ presents the biggest challenge in providing health services and products”, said Dr. Coenie Louw, Founder and Director of Gateway Health Institute.  “In these areas demand is high but delivery is poor. what3words changes all that. By providing every property with a unique address, residents now have a simple and reliable way to identify their homes.”

“Addressing these communities is the first step to improving their economic and social development, and indeed to changing lives,” said Chris Sheldrick, CEO and Co-Founder of what3words. “Gateway Health Institute have done incredible work in improving access to critical services for the most disadvantaged communities. Helping them to overcome one of their most fundamental barriers for delivering these services is something we’re very proud of.”

“With what3words our goal has been to create an infrastructure that quickly solves a problem that many countries have been struggling with for years. However, addressing challenges aren’t just found in informal settlements. With a burgeoning ecommerce industry, rapidly growing cities and an emerging middle class, African nations are outgrowing informal addressing systems. Africa is a continent where addressing challenges are playing out in almost every form.”

Available in thirteen languages, including French, English and Swahili, what3words is used by individuals, delivery companies, navigation tools, governments, logistics firms, travel guides and NGOs. The what3words ecosystem of apps and code is used in over 170 countries helping to deliver packages and post, ensuring that friends are met, business are found, assets are managed effectively and aid gets to those who need it most. It is more precise than traditional addresses, simpler than descriptions, and easier to communicate and remember than long strings of GPS coordinates. The system has built-in error detection and is available both as a mobile app and API integration.

Published Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

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